Last week President Obama convened the Forum on Modernizing Government at the White House. Around 50 chief executive officers from companies such as United Airlines, Weyerhauser, John Deere & Co., and many others joined administration officials to discuss lessons from the private sector that could help the government modernize its information technology. I was privileged to attend, and I joined the breakout session on Maximizing Technology Return on Investment . The discussion was fascinating and I was scribbling notes the entire time. (You can see me with my head down in the back of the room for most of the video.)
I was most struck by the CEOs’ understanding of their IT strategy and investments. Each of them clearly knew where their big IT dollars were going, the status of those initiatives, and the business outcomes that each one supported. We CIOs love it when our customers provide clear business or mission priorities that we can use to align our investments and projects!
Other comments that stood out in my session:
- Keep it simple. Customization is expensive and risky. Use off-the-shelf components and simplify your business processes to use the out-of-the-box capabilities.
- Plan on deployment cycles no longer than eighteen months long. Focus on what you can deliver in 18 months or less. If it takes longer than that, the new features are likely to be obsolete. Successive cycles can build on one another but keep individual project durations short.
- Clarity is critical. Understand the customer you are serving, define (and simplify) your processes, be precise about what business functions your project addresses. A lack of clarity is a critical project risk.
- Resist the temptation to tackle the core, mission-critical legacy systems all at once. Pick off subfunctions, modernize those, and work around the edges. Eventually you will get the whole beast modernized.
- Culture is an under-appreciated project factor. Every organization has a culture that affects risk tolerance and openness to change. Factor that into your planning and execution to increase your odds of success.
- IT enables business and mission success, but IT does not own the business/mission strategy and performance goals. Those must be driven from the top down in order to succeed.
Many of these points seem to be common sense, but it was refreshing to hear them from corporate leaders who have many other demands on their time. The fact that they showed up so informed and shared openly with us was a pleasure.